Friday, April 25, 2008

Greening the Workplace with TELEWORK

Check this out:

  • We could save 1.35-billion gallons of fuel and $4.5-billion dollars (at the current price of $3.33) if everyone with the potential to telework did so just 1.6 days a week.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency calculates that the saved fuel would prevent 26 billion pounds of carbon dioxide from being released in the atmosphere.
  • Telecommuting is perceived as a significant benefit by employees. According to a survey performed by staffing consultant, Robert Half International 50% of 1,400 CFOs said telework is the second best way to attract talent after salary. One-third listed it as the best way.
  • The Telework Coalition estimates more than 45-million US workers telecommute at least once a week.
  • A study by the Telework Coaltion surveyed 13 organizations that collectively had more than 77,000 teleworkers. The report found that the organizations that successfully leveraged teleworking as a tool to downsize office space, saw an annual cost savings of $10,000 per employee.
  • With more than 300,000 employees worldwide, IBM is the 13th largest private employer in the world. On any given day, 40% of IBM employees are working remotely, saving the company an estimated $56-million annually in office space costs.
  • IBM’s retention rate for teleworkers is much higher than the non-teleworkers – and they are 10-20% more productive than their office-bound peers.
  • Telework creates a more optimal life-work balance.
  • Reports predict that telework budgets will grow over the next 2 years – approximately by 17% in the private sector.

(source: AeA Telework Report)

One clear benefit is that companies which embrace telework programs enjoy higher retention rates and can leverage this flexible work-style alternative as a powerful recruiting tool. Additionally, these same firms benefit from the clear potential they have to reduce greenhouse gases and traffic congestion. As gasoline prices skyrocket, and as greenhouse emissions threaten the environment, the potential in fuel consumption is further reason to strongly promote telework.

I know the drawbacks. I have employees that telework… and I am actually composing this blog from home! Here's the daunting list of challenges for business owners & managers:

  • Monitoring the dedication and productivity of an employee can be a concern.
    This concern is valid, but addressable. Numerous applications exist that allow co-workers to collaborate on projects, chat online, and see & speak to each other through web-cams and other real-time applications.
  • Teleworking is not an option for every employee.
    Many jobs require face-to-face interaction with co-workers or clients that no amount of technology can overcome.
  • The company culture can get lost without frequent interaction.
    That’s only true if your firm is not continuing to do on-site meetings, company functions with social outlets, and quarterly reviews.
  • Scalability can be a major problem.
    Initially, there will be broad repercussions for the IT department – being that the teleworkers will have to access information behind the firewall, and may not readily have the technology resources to do so.
  • Compliance needs to be considered.
    Increasingly, organizations are required to log all electronic correspondence. Centralized logging needs to be a consideration.

I love, and was very surprised by how IBM is addressing the possible drawbacks to teleworking. So enamored are they with finding innovative ways to allow its global workforce to collaborate, that IBM actually established dozens of “islands” on the internet-based virtual world of Second Life. They use their space on Second Life for new employee orientation, ongoing training, and staff meetings. IBM employees that are part of a global project team use the Metaverse to collaborate and produce actual work, unencumbered by the confines of physical geography.

IBM employees – including CEO Sam Palmisano – create avatars, or online virtual representations of themselves, and interact via instant messaging and other communication tools in a 3-D environment they call the Metaverse. IBM finds this virtual environment vastly superior to traditional teleconferencing or even web-conferencing. Earlier this month, IBM announced that it would be actively working on blending its Lotus assets into its Meaverse, adding VOIP, web conferencing & instant messaging from its Sametime application, as well as profile, wiki & community tools from its Connections suite. (see article)

Those of us who are interested in having telework become a widely accepted practice, must appeal to the Federal & State governments. As the largest employer in the country, the Federal government can set an example and provide best practices to the private sector – and the state, country & local governments should follow suit. By telecommuting, these entities would earn budgetary savings, which they in turn could leverage back in the form of tax-breaks.

Both the House & Senate have introduced bills that require federal agencies to establish telework programs for all eligible workers. This is motivated by the need to maintain continuity of operations in response to a natural disaster or terrorist attach that would otherwise shut down the government. Other legislation has proposed tax credits for employers that encourage telework. Additionally, numerous bills have been introduced that promote broadband internet access – a facilitator of telework.

AeA supports all of these approaches. (see AeA report )

Additional sources for the content of this blog:

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